Why I Buy Black Market Contact Lenses

Dear Rich Lifer,

As a kid, I remember seeing a cardboard bin full of free (used) prescription eyeglasses. People could donate their old pairs and/or take what they needed.

I thought it was a great service: Letting folks help each other save money and prevent items from hitting the landfill … especially since glasses cost so much.

And really, what was the harm in wearing a pair of glasses that might not be the EXACT right prescription?

Depends on who you ask.

Here’s what the Mayo Clinic says about the matter:

Eyeglasses change the light rays that our eyes receive. They do not change any part of the eye itself. Wearing glasses that are too strong or otherwise wrong for the eyes cannot harm an adult – although it might result in a temporary headache. At worse, the glasses will fail to correct vision and make the wearer uncomfortable because of blurriness. However, it will not result in damage to any part of the eye.”

Yet, here in the United States an eyeglass prescription is generally valid for just a year or two — laws vary state to state — and a lot of professionals will give you scary warnings about what can happen if you continue wearing outdated lenses.

The Prescription Problem 

Let me tell you: I’ve been wearing the same pairs of glasses for many years now, even a few that are slightly less powerful than my latest prescription calls for.

I’m still alive and kicking just fine. Heck, I’m not even blind!

So to me, this is one of those conspiracies that is more about getting you into the eye doctor’s office for a checkup every year or two.

I know, I know… there are other benefits to regular visits. Still, it’s crazy that you absolutely cannot buy a pair of eyeglasses in the U.S. with an “outdated” prescription.

Especially since, rather conveniently, the same doctors issuing the prescriptions also happen to sell the products – often at much higher prices than you’d receive if you shopped elsewhere.

The good news is that the doctor is legally required to provide your prescription at the end of any exam… without additional charge and technically without you even asking for it!

In my own experience, however, some do not hand it over by default. I even had one receptionist balk when I said I’d be shopping around before buying anything.

Her assertion that the office had the same pricing as everywhere else turned out to be completely false.

So let’s talk about how to save money on your next pair of eyeglasses.

Nationally, the average pair of prescription eyeglasses costs $196. If you want designer frames or upgraded lenses – with tints, better optics, coatings, etc. – you can easily pay $500 to $1,000.

Me?

I don’t pay anywhere near that.

Nor do I go to a discount retailer at my local mall.

Here’s my two-step process:

Step #1: eBay

I typically buy my frames on eBay. I favor new old stock pairs of L.A. Eyeworks … which are readily available anywhere from $50 to $100 a pair. That’s a fraction of the hundreds of dollars they cost at retail.

You can find just about any size and type of frame you want on eBay and other online shopping platforms – anything from Vuarnet to Gucci. You can also buy a used set of frames with existing lenses already installed.

Step #2: Eyeglasses.com

I send the frames (and my prescription) to an online lens provider like Eyeglasses.com. The process is extremely simple, and probably just as fast as going through your doctor.

What’s even cooler is that you have complete control over the quality and type of lenses you get. You can choose a basic CR39 plastic lens for something like $50 all the way up to ultra-thin Zeiss lenses with a terrific anti-reflective coating.    

The point is that everything is transparent … as it should be when buying lenses! You can see all the choices, the costs, the brand names, etc.

Anyway, that’s how I do it. And I end up with unique, top-of-the-line eyeglasses for less than wholesale.

What About Contact Lenses?

Of course, I wear contact lenses the vast majority of the time and the rules there are even more stringent – with updated prescriptions generally required every year.

Fortunately, as with eyeglass prescriptions, your doctor is required to automatically provide an updated prescription at the end of your exam (without additional cost or strings attached). The doctor must also verify your information if a third-party seller calls to ask.

That’s thanks to the Contact Lens Rule of 2004, which followed Congress’ Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act in 2003.

The same rule makes it illegal for anyone to sell you new contacts if your prescription is out of date… even if you’re buying non-corrective lenses (like ones to change your eye color).

The Loophole

That rule is assuming the seller is located in the United States though. Which is why I’ve been buying my lenses from the United Kingdom for the last couple of years.

It all started when I realized I was on my last pair of lenses and that my prescription had just expired.

Sure, I could have made an appointment and gotten a new prescription. But I needed another set of lenses right away. And besides, my prescription hadn’t changed in many YEARS.

So I began searching the web and discovered foreign sellers like Vision Direct. While they obviously need your prescription info to fill an order, they do NOT need the actual form nor do they care when you last saw an eye doctor.

Even more miraculous?

I’ve been paying less for my same brand of contacts than when I was using discounted sellers based in the U.S. (A depressed pound-to-dollar conversion rate only helps things.) And yes, I’m even factoring in shipping, which typically takes a matter of days. 

Bottom line: I’m not a doctor and I’m not telling you to stop getting eye exams. But I have 20/20 vision when it comes to spotting deals, and there are definitely ways to spend less money and avoid some of the questionable bureaucracy when shopping for corrective eyewear.

To a richer life,

Nilus Mattive

Nilus Mattive

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Nilus Mattive

Nilus is the editor for the daily e-letter The Rich Life Roadmap and a Paradigm Press analyst.

Nilus began his professional career at Jono Steinberg’s Individual Investor Group, where he published his original research through a regular investment column. Later, he worked for a private equity business and spent five years editing Standard and Poor’s...

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